For Curran, Graduation Season is Twice as Sweet
Thursday, May 18, 2023
St. Louis Community College will celebrate commencement Sunday, May 21, at Chaifetz Arena on the campus of Saint Louis University, marking both small and monumental accomplishments for graduating students. There are as many stories as there are graduates, and with this special series, we celebrate all of our 2023 graduates with stories about six students who demonstrate in their own way what it takes to earn a degree. A new story will publish each day the week of May 15-19, leading up to STLCC's commencement ceremony. This is the fourth story in the series.
For Nathan Curran, 18, graduation season is twice as sweet this year. The reason for this is because he's graduating with both his high school diploma from Parkway South and an associate degree in general transfer studies from St. Louis Community College.
For Curran, these achievements are a result of hard work, determination and a unique opportunity made possible to him through STLCC’s Early College Program (ECP) with Parkway School District.
“For me, I felt like high school was moving too slow, especially when my classes were virtual during COVID,” he said. “I’ve always tried to seek out new challenges and work ahead, so when I learned about the ECP during my sophomore year, I seized the chance to apply. I’m a highly motivated individual, so enrolling in college classes at STLCC while still in high school was a great choice for me.”
As a student in the program, Curran took a full course load of college classes at STLCC. These classes then transferred back to his high school, allowing him to earn two degrees simultaneously. As an added bonus, the tuition costs for his classes were covered by his school district.
“The ECP allowed me to save time and money while fast-tracking my four-year degree,” he said. “I also really benefited from taking classes alongside other college students, many of whom were steps ahead of me in life, because they had different experiences and insights to share.”
Curran took courses at both the Wildwood and Meramec campuses. He also completed several classes online. Along the way, he remained active in high school activities, playing varsity volleyball, serving as captain of the robotics team and participating in National Honor Society and Mu Alpha Theta. At Wildwood, he joined Phi Theta Kappa, the international honor society for two-year colleges. Outside of school, he also earned his Eagle Scout rank, the highest rank in Boy Scouts.
Collectively, these experiences helped position him for the next step, which begins in August when he'll start taking junior level courses at Maryville University. His plan is to complete a bachelor’s degree in computer science with an emphasis in machine learning and artificial intelligence.
“While I’ve always had a love of learning and a natural curiosity to understand how things work, my interest in genetics is personal,” he said. “That’s because I have a special needs sister who has a disability we don’t yet know much about. I want to work in this field so I can help apply machine learning technology to analyze the genome to identify defects, and ultimately increase our understanding of genetics.”
Perhaps equally as impressive as his career aspirations is the scholarship he secured to fund his bachelor’s degree.
“I was one of 600 students invited to compete for a full tuition scholarship at Maryville, and I got it,” he said. “Thanks to this opportunity, I’m on track to graduate debt-free with my bachelor’s degree.”
For Curran, the funding he received to earn his associate degree and bachelor’s degree is huge because he wants to take his education even further.
“If I want to work in artificial intelligence and machine learning, then I know I have several more years of coursework ahead of me,” he said. “I expect I’ll need at least a master’s degree, if not more, to land my dream job.”
According to John Elliott, professor of mathematics at STLCC-Meramec, Curran’s plans are well within reach.
“Nathan was an outstanding student in my calculus class,” he said. “He interacted a lot in class, asked great questions, worked hard and had a great attitude. I have no doubt that he’ll excel in whatever path he pursues.”
Jane Miles, student success advisor at STLCC-Wildwood, echoed these sentiments.
“Nathan’s been a joy to work with and advise,” she said. “While he’s clearly a bright and hardworking young man, what’s most impressive about him is the sense of calm he exudes and how easily he communicates. He’s got the potential to achieve great things.”
Outside of class, Curran enjoys spending time outdoors. Along with mountain biking and rock climbing, he volunteers to clean up caves and is active in other conservation projects. He also works part time as a restaurant server.
When asked what advice he’d share with others, he said, “One of the most important skills you can learn is how to advocate for yourself. It also helps if you develop strong organizational skills so you can stay focused and on track.”